Public sector equality duties

The public sector equality duties are unique pieces of equality legislation. They give public bodies, including further and higher education institutions legal responsibilities to demonstrate that they are taking action on equality in policymaking, the delivery of services and public sector employment.

The duties require public bodies to take steps not just to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment, but also to actively promote equality.

The purpose of the duties

The purpose of the equality duties is not to be process driven and bureaucratic but rather to offer an outcome-based method of ensuring that institutions are best meeting the needs of all their students. 

The duties provide a framework to help institutions tackle persistent and long-standing issues of disadvantage, such as gender stereotyping in subject choice, attainment gaps between white and black and minority ethnic students and low participation rates of disabled people. They also provide a strategic and systematic means of tackling major entrenched disadvantage across the sector.

Institutions are currently bound by three separate duties for race, disability and gender. These are similar in their spirit and intention but where differences do exist between the different duties, these reflect the differing nature of discrimination faced by different groups and the lessons learned from the introduction of earlier duties.  

The Equality Act will introduce a single public sector equality duty, which will apply to all protected characteristics. The new duty will not be commenced at the same time as the majority of the other provisions of the Equality Act. The new duty is explained more fully below but until it has commenced, the current duties will continue to apply.

Current duties on race, disability and gender


Institutions are under a duty to eliminate racial discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and to promote good relations between persons of different racial groups. Institutions must produce a race equality policy which is a written statement of their policy for promoting race equality.

There is also a duty to assess and monitor the impact of policies on students and staff of different racial groups, in particular the admission and progress of students and the recruitment and career progress of staff. Such steps as are reasonably practicable should be taken to publish annually the results of the monitoring. 


Institutions are under a duty, when carrying out their functions, to have regard to the need to: promote equality of opportunity between disabled and other people; eliminate discrimination and harassment; promote positive attitudes to disabled people; encourage participation by disabled people in public life, and take steps to meet disabled people’s needs, even if this requires more favourable treatment.

Institutions are also required to publish a disability equality scheme, which is required to show how the institution is meeting its general duty to promote disability equality across all of its areas of responsibility. 


Institutions have a general duty to promote equality of opportunity between men and women and a specific duty to publish a gender equality scheme, including an action plan showing how the institution intends to fulfil its duties. Institutions must revise and review the plan every three years and report on progress annually.

Guidance for institutions and information on the legal requirements of the current duties can be found on the Commission’s website at:

The new single public sector equality duty

The Equality Act harmonises the existing three duties into one new duty, which will cover all seven equality strands: age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.  

The single public sector equality duty will require public authorities to:

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
  • Advance equality of opportunity.
  • Foster good relations.

The Commission advises public bodies to prepare for the new duty by gathering information and starting to consult and involve stakeholders with regard to the new strands, which will help them begin to identify their priorities for action.

The Commission will be producing a separate code of practice and sector specific guidance on the single public sector equality duty.

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